By Constantine S. Sirigos, TNH Staff Writer, THE NATIONAL HERALD, MARCH 31 – APRIL 6, 2012
MANHATTAN – The Greek Independence Day Parade on Fifth Avenue was not graced by the sun this year. It was a little damp and chilly, but the sun of Hellenism and of Justice for Cyprus glowed in the hearts and shined in the minds of thousands of marchers and spectators.
Grand Marshal Robert Menendez, U.S. Senator from New Jersey, inspired the hundreds who heard him speak at events throughout the weekend. “It’s an extraordinary day. It is one of [my] highest privileges to have been named the grand marshal,” said the Manhattan-born Senator of Cuban descent. He has often expressed the powerful affinity he feels for the community and for Greece. He believes the Athens, as the birthplace of democracy, is still a beacon of light throughout the world.
Parade Day began with the Divine Liturgy and Doxology celebrated at the Cathedral by Archbishop Demetrios of America, who invited representatives of Greece and Cyprus to address the congregation. The theme was the need for the unity that will make it possible to build a new Greece. Just after 1:30PM the marching band of the Greek School of Plato in Brooklyn began to stir.
Directed by the whistle of Stephanie Christakos, they alternately played the Greek patriotic song “Pindos” and the Greek national anthem. They slowly moved towards the horses and riders of the NYC Police Department Mounted Color Guard, and continued playing while the VIPs marshaled behind them.
The parade began in earnest with the strains of the Police Department’s ceremonial band. Dozens of communities and organizations and almost 50 floats followed them up the grand Avenue, accompanied by the applause of thousands of spectators. The children and adults who were lined up on the side streets were bursting with excitement
and were anxious to get onto Fifth Avenue. All waited their turn, and the marchers made the spectators proud of what many called the best-organized parade in memory, a tribute to the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York and all the volunteers.
The Parade began with a note of Greek pride sounded by the well-prepared and ebullient parade announcers: Anthoula Katsimatides, Nancy Biska, Takis Vassos, and Dimitrios Filios. They greeted the spectators and quoted the poet Goethe: “Of all people, the Greeks have dreamed the dream of life best.” The Color Guard was followed by the Police Band and then the Orthodox Christian police officers who comprise the St. Paul’s Society, and the Hellenic Society of the Dept. of Corrections.
Dreams of sunshine did not materialize, but the smiles of the VIPs and Federation officers lit the way, led by Menendez and honorary Marshals Sano Halo, Pontian Holocaust survivor, Olympian Pyrros Dimas, the archbishop, and Federation President Elias Tsekerides. Parade Chairs Philip Christopher and Dr. Frixos Goussis, and representative of Greece and Cyprus also marched behind the Federation banner, but Cypriot Consul General Koula Sophianou and Greek Consul Evangelos Kyriakopoulos should win an athletic medal. They went back to beginning a number of times to march with different groups.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg marched along Fifth Avenue, as he does every year, as did U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), who once again delighted the crowd by declaring “Zito i Ellas – Long Live Greece,” with his trademark bullhorn. The mayor did not bring a bullhorn, so he stepped up to the podium to praise Greek-Americans and all the citizens of New York for contributing to the City’s achievements and cultural diversity.
The mayor was greeted warmly, but as always, the loudest cheers were reserved for the Evzones. The paraders paused when they reached the reviewing stand and all rose for the Greek and American national anthems, sung respectively in traditional and modern style by Anastasia Zani of Greece.
Miss Greek Independence Olga Motska showed she, too, had wattage in her smile to brighten the day, along with her friends on the Federation float. The Holy Trinity Cathedral was the first of many Greek- American community schools whose students filled parade goers with joy, as did the contingent form St. Basil’s Academy.
Among the highlights was the float of the Order of AHEPA, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary and is one of the groups that has taken the lead in sending aid to Greece. Supreme President Dr. John Grossomanides is preparing to lead the AHEPA family’s 84th annual overseas excursion which will travel to Greece, Cyprus, Constantinople and the Holy Land. They will explore additional ways to assist Greece.
Nicky Stamoulis, Grand President of the Daughters of Penelope, told TNH they have asked all chapters to collect donations. More of the community’s philanthropic efforts were showcased by a number of floats, including the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund, the Greek Childrens Fund, the Pan Gregorian Enterprises, and the Carnival of Love. Cultural endeavors were represented by the Greek Cultural Center and the Hellenic Society Paideia of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Virginia
There were 46 floats in all and boat floats were popular. The Nisyrians filled one with smiling young children, and St. John the Theologian of Tenafly, NJ sponsored a float that sported a tribute to Greek navies from Ancient times to 1821 to the present. Others vehicles were floating vessels of “kefi – Greek sprit” bearing musicians and dancers, like those of the Cretan Societies of NY and NJ and Sterea Ellas Society – musical surf and turf. The proud contingents of Cypriot-Americans reflected dual emotions of Hellenes these days, seriousness mingled with traditional holiday joy. The community is committed to continuing the fight for justice for Cyprus.
The Cyprus Federation and the Pan Cyprian band and numerous other associations and youth groups marched. The Federation’s float was crowned with a map of Cyprus, the occupied part shown in bright red. Nostalgia for Greece’s beautiful regions inspired many floats.
Peloponnesos was represented by the Pan-Arcadian Federation of America, the Messinian society, and the Brotherhood of Mani – whose armored tower evoked the renowned fierceness of the region that some suggest contains some of Napoleon’s roots. The Athenian Society had its own float, and the Pan Pontian Federation of USA and Canada also had a boat float to honor the memory of the Greeks from Asia
Minor’s Black Sea Coast.
The Evrytanon Society “Panagia I Proussiotisa” had a float for Central Greece, and the Epirotes had their own. Proud Macedonia was honored by the Pan Macedonia Association of America and the Kastorian society, who continue to defend the name and history of the region. The sons and daughters of many Greek islands also floated along Fifth Avenue: Euboea, Ikaraia, Mytiline, Ikaria, Nisyros, and Samos had separate floats.
The Cephalonians and Ithakans had one together and the combined float of the Dodecanese Society was filled with colorful costumes from those various islands. A number of organization floats and groups reflected the commercial and professional success of the community. Marathon Bank, Investors Bank, and Atlantic Bank, were there, and the Hellenic Lawyers Association, and the Hellenic Medical Society of New York also marched.
The Greek clubs of numerous colleges separately and behind the banner of the Intercollegiate Hellenic Society of America. Of the many marching bands the one from Princeton University out – for its great music, its marching precision – and its orange jackets. Equally colorful were the people of The Greek Warriors, a living history group dressed in spectacular costumes from different periods.
Many parishes ignored the weather and came out in full force, from as far as Bridgeport, CT – Holy Trinity Church, and Annapolis, MD – the Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen. The loudest cheers were sounded for the Church of St. Nicholas at Ground Zero, led by their pastor Fr. John Romas, who is preparing for the day when St. Nicholas will rise again.
Church floats were elaborate, too. The one from Zoodohos Peghe came from the Bronx, and the communities of Brooklyn and Staten Island again demonstrated the importance of unity with their combined float. St. Demetrios Cathedral of Astoria, home of the only Greek-American high school in America, had one of the largest contingents, along with St. Nicholas of Flushing, whose students at the William Spyropoulos and Stefanos and Areti Tserpelis schools sang the Greek national anthem as they marched.
St. Demetrios of Jamaica and Holy Cross of Whitestone were proud of their floats and the Cathedral of St. Paul Hempstead’s float was the first one from Long Island. St. Demetrios of Merrick’s float evoked applause, dominated by a sign that said “Greece is NOT for sale.” St. Paraskevi of Greenlawn, Archangel Michael of Port Washington, and the Church of the Assumption of Port Jefferson’s floats followed.
New Jersey had a substantial and proud presence led by Metropolitan Evangelos. St. George of Clifton and St. George of Piscataway had floats and the Federation of Hellenic Organizations of New Jersey also marched, along with the Greek clubs of numerous schools. The Sacred Patriarchal Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou and its students marched, as did St. Markella of Astoria and the Holy Metropolis, led by Metropolitan Pavlos.
Solidarity was a powerful theme at this year’s parade, not only between Diaspora Greeks and the homeland, but with Greece’s ethnic neighbors and brothers. Once again, the Knights of Vartan Armenian Fraternal Organization marched, as did the Serbians with a banner that read “Serbian Orthodox Churches of New York are supporting our Greek brothers.” The “Occupy” movement also demonstrated solidarity as the group “Occupy Astoria-Occupy Long Island City” joined the Greek Solidarity Network to raise awareness of the struggles of the people of Greece.
Once again, the Catsimatidis family arranged for a live broadcast from 2-4 PM on Channel 9 hosted by beloved news anchors Ernie Anastos and Nicole Petallides,
along with popular weatherman Nick Gregory and Good Day New York’s Jill Nicolini.
Just as the announcers finished thanking all who worked to make the great day possible and congratulating the marchers, the sun poked its way through the clouds as if to offer a benediction. Vasilis and Louiza Papas were thrilled and proud to be in attendance. “There has never been a bigger moment for us to be here. Its shows that we are united, and with unity we will accomplish what we must,” Vasilis said. Vangelis and Maria Alevrontas were among the many happy patriots who gather, along with friends and family, every year for the parade. The clouds didn’t get them down. “So what, who needs the sun,” Maria said. “It’s fantastic that today is the actual date of the holiday.”
The popular tradition of the Federation’s pre-parade breakfast at the Pierre Hotel continued. Anastasios Manessis welcomed guests and paid a tribute to the Greek Orthodox “for maintaining the Hellenic and Orthodox Christian consciousness under 400 years of occupation” and praised Greek heroes and philhellenes of 1821. “May their memory be eternal,” he declared. Former NY State Assemblyman Matthew Mirones assisted at the podium. Greetings were offered by Demetrios and officials from Greece and Cyprus, as well as by local political leaders. Tsekerides was beaming. Confident it would be a great parade thanks to the efforts of the volunteers he told the guests, “We will be united, to do what we must, and what we are able to do,” to help Greece and the community. He singled out Dimas who was standing nearby. “He lifted 800 pounds in Atlanta…that’s like lifting six people.
If that is possible anything is possible,” and he closed by praising Menendez, who greeted everyone with “kalimera sas” in flawless Greek. He said his support for Greek causes and issues flows from his admiration for Hellenism and Greek-Americans and from the fact that Greece has stood with the US in every major conflict, adding “I am a am admirer of the Greek people who with nothing more than a passport and a dream came to the U.S. and have made incredible contributions to our country… across the spectrum,” of professions and endeavors.
The theme of the parade was “Solidarity with Greece,” and while there were many messages from the podia at various events and written on signs, banners, and parade floats expressing a desire by the Greeks of the Diaspora to help build a new Greece, they also sent they also sent the powerful message that the Greek crisis will not distract the community from the other national issues.
No one expressed that more powerfully than Grand Marshal Menendez. Declaring he was proud to be a strong and unwavering ally of the community he noted that he is “a strong advocate of religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarch and telling the Turkish government they cannot interfere with the Patriarchate.”
Menendez told TNH that it has been his commitment to stop every movement in the Senate for formal recognition for FYROM as Macedonia,” and said that admiration also makes him “a strong advocate of having U.S. policy say that Cyprus deserves to be re-united,” and concluded by saying “I will not rest until the last boot of the last Turkish soldier leaves Northern Cyprus.
Mendedez was joined by numerous political leaders including Rep. Carolyn Maloney, known in the community as Bouboulina – the name of a heroine of 1821 – for her steadfast support, NY State comptroller Thomas Di Napoli, NY State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, State Senator Michael Gianaris, City Councilor Peter Vallone, Jr., Nassau comptroller George Maragos, who is running for the US Senate, NY Assemblywomen Aravella Simotas and Nichole Malliotakis, and of course, Mayor Bloomberg. Vallone marches every year.
He pointed out that in the past, “Greek immigrants facing economic challenges came to the United States and thrived, and now their children and grandchildren are in a position to help their homeland get through this crisis.” He was among many who declared “Zito I Ellas and God bless America!”